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12 Sea change
So you are fed up with your boring office job and want a change. Wouldn't it be
nice to live in one of those fabulous tourist destinations where it's summer all
year round? How about going into the diving industry? You could buy a boat
and take tourists to the Great Barrier Reef. Or you could establish a yachtin g
business in the Whitsunday Islands. You might even set up a backpacker
Many of my friends in the tourist industry had professional qualifications . Some had
worked as accountants. Others had escaped from government offices. Some were
failed academics. Most were wandering souls. Few of us realised we could be
competing against hardened criminals when we left our cosy middle-class jobs for a
more eventful lifestyle.
I'd heard of money laundering but had never given it much thought . Put in simple
terms. Money laundering is what happens when dirty money from illegal operations
(e.g. drugs) is processed to make it appear legitimate . Just imagine that you set up a
business and find yourself competing against people who don't care if they make a
profit. Their sole concern is to launder money. They'll undercut you at every
opportunity and intimidate your staff.
I got to know a couple who had escaped the stress and strain of the big city for the
peace and tranquillity of North Queensland. They'd earned enough as financial
advisers to buy a backpacker hostel located in a veritable tourist paradise. Rainforest,
tropical islands, scuba diving ... everything you could wish for.
It didn't take them long to realise that all was not well in paradise. Like other
hostels, they had a backpacker bus which called at the central bus station. There was,
of course, competition for customers. They expected that but what they encountered
came as a shock. Hostels were competing to offer the lowest price. One was a huge
resort and it was prepared to put people up for free!
Nothing made sense. The resort's previous owners had gone bust. They'd spent a
fortune and had failed because there weren't enough tourists to support their lavish
project. My friends started to make enquiries. With their professional background, it
wasn't difficult to discover what the new owners had paid and how they had raised the
finance. A considerable bank loan was involved. There was no way they could
service the debt from their takings. The logical conclusion was that they'd soon be
bankrupt like the previous owners but that didn't happen. Even with a ridiculously low
bed price they stayed afloat.
What about restaurant and bar taking ... could they be sufficient?
That seemed unlikely. If you want to make money from booze and food it doesn't
make sense to put up your customers at a give-away price. My friends went round to
have a look. They discovered a lot of activity but not enough cash flow to satisfy the